Think B2B Plus B2C
All successful companies are customer-obsessed. They know their customers and work hard to serve the needs they have today and those of tomorrow. The best companies have the humility to know that customers choose what products they buy or how to spend their time. They also know that customer loyalty is connected to customer satisfaction. Have I told you anything you haven’t heard before? Not yet. But I’m getting to my point, and it’s some of the best advice I have for business-to-business (B2B) companies.
Customer-Obsessed to the Power of Two
B2B companies should be customer-obsessed to the power of two. Focus not only on your customer but your customer’s customer. You won’t ever serve them or sell to them directly, but you can boost the value of your offerings if you know all that makes them tick. That’s the interconnected nature of B2B work. There is always an end customer (or ‘C’). So, you should work to understand and constantly seek insights along the entire value chain of your business; think B2B plus B2C.
The value of this approach is especially true for our B2B clients in Automotive, Building Products, and Energy. Let’s look at the category of Energy, for example. A B2B company has an offering that they sell to a Utility, an electric company. The electric company’s ‘C’ are homeowners, businesses, and municipalities. The relationship dynamic that the Utility has with their customer is transactional, and the offering is one centered on rational benefits. Those benefits might be power to keep food in the fridge cold, electricity to operate business, or lights to keep a dark road safe. The offering is essential, and their customers must have it. The only friction in the B2C relationship of their company only occurs when service is interrupted, inferior, or if an alternative source becomes available. To a power provider, the power is being on. But Utilities must also run their business in a manner that delivers all that I highlighted above. They must be customer-obsessed. And if the B2B company serving the Electric company wants to keep the spark alive (pun intended) in their partnership, they must have that same depth of knowledge and passion for their customer’s ‘C.’
Now let’s get to the tips before you lose the energy to read this blog. And full disclosure, I’m a sucker for business strategy and market research. I embrace the power of insights, and I’ve sold/managed millions of dollars of research-oriented work. Yet I’m equally inclined to recommend research work that won’t cost our clients a dime if it’s the right call, where the only investment is time.
Tip #1: Set Up a Customer Panel
Not with your customers but with your customer’s customers. It can consist of five handpicked people or 5,000 of their customers. Scale accordingly to fit your business. You then leverage the panel via one-on-one interviews, focus groups, or online surveys. It’s the best investment for fast access to insights that drive informed decision-making.
Tip #2: Conduct an Annual Survey
With one annual investment, you can collect a wealth of insights that can be of value to each department of your customer. If your survey goes deep enough and is designed right, much of the learnings won’t get stale. And if they do, it will be a new year, and you can benchmark the data. It becomes a way to watch the nuanced shifts of the market and delight your customers with insights they look forward to year after year.
Tip #3: Talk to Their Customers
There is a time and place to pay a research firm like FARM to do in-depth interviews, but don’t be fearful of trying it yourself. You, too, can get it done. I guarantee that you know people that are the ‘C’ of your customers. Heck, you might be their ‘C’ yourself. Take out a notepad, prepare some thoughtful questions, and put on your best listening ears. It’s that simple.
Tip #4: Seek Knowledge From Inside Your Customer’s Company
There are no better experts on their customers than those folks that talk with them daily. The best staff to speak with is customer service, training/support, product development, and, most importantly, sales. When you have these conversations, dig for their point of view, ask them to share customer stories, and moderate the discussion with a productive spirit in which you crave their valuable insights. People respond well to that, and if they know their time will benefit the company, they’ll give it to you freely.
In closing, invest time in pursuing insights and be intentional about it. In my view, the best way to build value with a customer is to be informed. You’ll like never know your customer’s customer better than they do, but could you be more curious? ‘C’ertainly.